Life ends at 45... Study reveals when our mental powers start to diminish

Huge survey carried out on Whitehall civil servants shows our brains peak earlier that we think

Hone those chess skills, pick up that crossword and solve the sudoku – a major study has found that our brains start deteriorating at the age of 45 – more than a decade earlier than had been thought.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive performance – memory, reasoning and comprehension skills – did not begin to decline until the age of 60.

But if the earlier onset is proved it could be a warning signal about dementia, which is set to become the major health challenge of the 21st century. Studies have linked modest differences in cognitive performance in early life with increased risk of dementia.

The study, conducted among Whitehall civil servants over a decade, found that among those aged 45-49 at the start there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning in both sexes over the next ten years. Among those aged 65-70, the decline increased to 9.6 per cent among men and 7.4 per cent among women over the following decade.

Performance in reasoning, memory and verbal fluency were all affected. But vocabulary, which is known to be little influenced by age, was unaffected.

Participants were tested on their reasoning power with 65 questions involving multiplying two figures, completing a pattern or filling in a word sequence. They had 10 minutes, with the best getting all 65 questions right.

Two types of verbal fluency were tested by asking them to name all the animals they could think of in one minute and all the words beginning with "S". The top scores were 36 animals and 32 "S" words.

On memory they listened to a list of 20 words and had to recall as many as possible in one minute. The maximum score was 18. Archana Singh Manoux, who led the study by the Centre for Research in Population Health in France and University College, London, said: "Cognitive performance is complex. It is a combination of knowledge and speed. If you are looking for words but it takes you 10 minutes it is not much use."

The results demonstrated the importance of acting early to ward of premature mental decline. Diet, smoking, physical exercise were all important, she said, because emerging evidence showed "what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads".

Leisure activities also mattered. "If you play chess and can plan six moves in advance then you are probably going to be all right," Ms Manoux said.

The findings in the British Medical Journal, show a significant decline on all tests, except vocabulary. Although the decline was most marked in reasoning, it might turn out that memory decline was more significant in the development of dementia, she said.

She added: "There is a lot of research going on into Nintendo games for the elderly. The findings so far are inconclusive but that might be because the participants are too old and should start at a younger age."

In the BMJ, Francine Grodstein, of the Brigham and Women's hospital in the US, says the study has "potentially profound implications" for dementia by indicating that efforts to prevent it may need to begin in adults as young as 45.

Are you smarter than a 45-year-old? Take the test

1. Easy means the opposite of: Problem, simple, difficult, always, cannot.

2. 15 35 55 75 95: What number comes next?

3. Seed is to plant as egg is to: tree, bird, pollen, oats, potato.

4. Here are three figures, 234. Divide the biggest figure by the smallest and add the result to the figure printed immediately after the smallest figure.

5. Right means the opposite of

Action, good, careless, wrong, motive.

6. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Add the first five figures together and subtract them from the sum of the last four.

7. Army is to Navy as soldier is to: airman, sea, service, sailor, uniform.

8. If castle is bigger than cottage, write down the second of these figures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. If it is not, then write down the sixth.

9. 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6. What number comes next?

10. If G is the seventh letter of the alphabet and Wednesday is not a month of the year, divide 63 by 7. Otherwise subtract 3 from 5. Write down your answer.

11. Here are three figures: 672. Add the largest two figures and divide the total by the smallest figure.

12. Sky is to ground as ceiling is to: roof, down, floor, rug, high.

13. If 8 is more than 3, write down 7, unless 3 is more than 7, in which case write 8.

14. When is to where as time is to: how, why, space, length, relativity.

15. 0.9, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.7. What comes next?

Answers

1. Difficult; 2. 115; 3. bird; 4. 5; 5. wrong; 6. 15; 7. sailor; 8. 2; 9. 1/7; 10. 9; 11. 6.5; 12. floor; 13. 7; 14. space; 15. 1.9.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Technician - 1st Line

    £19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

    PPA Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

    Primary Teaching Jobs Available NOW-Southport

    £80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

    KS2 Teacher

    £80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Randstad education are working...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London